Goals in Conflict


Written on Sunday, November 15, 2009 by haleigh

Debra Dixon is perhaps best well-known for her book, Goals, Motivation and Conflict. Each character has all three: something they want, a reason for wanting it, and an obstacle to getting it.

While Dixon uses conflict to refer only to the obstacles, the whole GMC concept refers to the overall conflict of the novel. In every conflict between characters (i.e., in every plot), there is a goal. Your protagonist wants something, and your antagonist has his own goals.

In conflict theory, the goals, those things we fight over, are divided into three groups: interests, values, and needs. Interests are tangible things, and the things we make clear we want (I want a raise; I want custody in the divorce). Values are beliefs held over right and wrong or ethics which lead to conflicts (the abortion debate, Republicans vs. Democrats). Needs are core, non-negotiable needs, such as survival needs (food, water, shelter), and basic psychological needs (acceptance, love).

In fiction, the conflicts must be intense enough to sustain the entire plot. Just from looking at the three types of goals, it's obvious that conflicts over needs are more intense than conflicts over interests. People generally do not compromise over what they need to survive, or what they believe to be right and wrong. They will compromise on interests.

When developing a conflict for your project, look for conflicts that combine all three: interests, values, and needs. These conflicts become difficult to solve, giving you more room for charactrization and plot development.

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  1. Jessica |

    You're alive!!! LOL

    Great post, and good fodder for thought. Needs are definitely more interesting for conflict stuff.

  2. haleigh |

    I'm alive! LOL! I'm trying to re-launch my blog with a thought toward collecting articles on how conflict theory can inform writing or revising. We'll see :)

    Sorry I've been MIA, but things are going well. I got signed by an agent! My MS is out on submission - keep your fingers crossed for me! How's it going with you?

  3. Jessica |

    Eeek! An agent? You go, girl! I'm not surprised. :-) Who'd you sign with?
    I'm good. No signings here, but I do have a full out and a partial somewhere else. :-)
    *crossing my fingers for you*

  4. haleigh |

    Nice! I'll keep my fingers crossed for you on the submission. How exciting!

    I signed with Brendan Deneen at Fine Print. I did an interview yesterday about it on Query Tracker's blog-http://bit.ly/3vTsno

  5. Jessica |

    Cool. I'm going to go check it out.


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